Our History

Our 146 hectare estate originally formed part of “Constantia”, a vast property established in 1685 by Simon van der Stel, the first governor of the Cape. This particular valley was chosen not only for its beauty, but also for the decomposed granite soils on its slopes, gently cooled by ocean breezes

EXPLORE OUR HISTORY

First Cape Vines are planted

1652

First Cape vines are planted

Jan van Riebeeck arrives at the Cape as the Dutch East India Company’s first Commander. His first official duty is to build a fort, but he and chief gardener Hendrik Boom also plant the first vines in the Company Gardens, still an urban haven in the centre of present-day Cape Town.

Van Riebeecks diary

1659

Van Riebeeck’s diary

Vin de Constance is one of only three wines from the southern hemisphere included among the 44 ‘greatest wines in the world’ in David Cobbold’s The Great Wines and Vintages: Les Plus Grands Vins du Monde. In 2000 Klein Constantia is named one of the nine ‘most mythical vineyards in the world’ by the Institut International des Paysages et Architectures Viticoles (International Institute of Viticultural Landscapes and Architecture), alongside the likes of Yquem and La Romanée-Conti.

Constantia is established

1685

Constantia is established

The 10th Commander of the Cape, Simon Van der Stel, is granted his own farm. To find the most favourable wine growing area, he first gets his men to dig up baskets of soil from Table Bay to Muizenberg, with each sample sent to the Castle for testing. Satisfied that the sheltered valley facing False Bay is the most favourable, with its decomposed granite soil, he claims it and calls it Constantia. It measures 891 morgen, encompassing almost the entire valley.

Constantia winemaking begins

1692

Constantia winemaking begins

Van der Stel builds a fine house surrounded by gardens, orchards and vineyards planted with a variety of Muscat grapes. In 1692 he receives encouraging feedback from Dutch East India Company headquarters in Batavia: ‘The wine from Constantia is of a much higher quality than any send out so far, but obviously only available in small quantities.’ When Dutch minister, naturalist and author Francois Valentijn visits in 1705, he describes Constantia as the Cape’s ‘loveliest and largest estate…on which grows all the choicest wine to be found…exceptionally good…so divine and enticing in taste’.

Constantia divided into 3 farms

1712

Constantia is divided into three farms

Van der Stel dies at Constantia on June 24, 1712. An auction of his estate is held over four days, and Constantia is divided into three. The largest portion, Bergvliet, is most suitable for livestock farming. The portion known as Groot Constantia goes to 73-year-old Oloff Bergh, whose widow Anna de Koning inherits it in 1724. The portion known as Klein Constantia (later renamed Hoop op Constantia) goes to Johan Jurgen Kotze, who dies soon thereafter. In 1718, his widow, Elsabe, marries Johannes Colijn, the son of a wealthy freed slave of West African descent, Maria Everts. Colijn immediately sets about tending the vines and making wine.

Constantia on the international map

1726

Constantia on the international map

In May 1726, Johannes Colijn negotiates the first shipment of Constantia to the Fatherland, and in 1727 it is formally agreed that he will annually supply 10 to 12 leaguers of red at 80 rixdollars each and 20 leaguers of white at 50 rixdollars each. Before long, he is battling to keep up with demand, so when Anna de Koning dies in 1734, Colijn secures a loan (including some of his own money) for his sister Johanna’s husband, Carl Georg Wieser, to purchase Groot Constantia. Over the next 50 years (and beyond), many visitors to the Cape record that both farms produce the famous sweet Constantia wine.

Early claims to fame

1777

Early claims to fame

Constantia is soon a favourite among European nobility including Prussian Emperor Frederick the Great, whose cellar at Schloss Sanssouci contains 409 bottles of ‘Capp Constancia’ in October 1777. And that’s nothing compared to the Versailles cellar of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette, which in November 1782 contains 2,634 bottles of ‘Vin du cap de Constance’ (compared to only 2,031 bottles of Burgundy, the traditional ‘wine of kings’).

American Founding Fathers

1778

American founding fathers

In May 1778, while still fighting for independence from Britain, George Washington is sent ‘one dozn Bottles of Constantia Wine’ for which he conveys his ‘sincere thanks’. In December 1779, the man who will eventually succeed Washington as US president, John Adams, drinks Constantia among several of the world’s ‘best’ wines over a memorable dinner in Spain, describing the wines as ‘the most delicious in the World’. That same year, Thomas Jefferson records a payment of 24 pounds for ‘Cape Wines’, later classing ‘Cape’ among the world’s most expensive wines, alongside Hock, Tokay and Malmsey.

The Cloetes join the Colijns in Constantia

1778

The Cloetes join the Colijns in Constantia

In 1776, Johannes Nicolaas Colijn purchases Hoop op Constantia ‘very cheaply from his parents’ for 61,680 guilders, and in 1778, Jan Serrurier purchases Groot Constantia for only 53,000 guilders, selling it within the year to prosperous Stellenbosch farmer Hendrik Cloete, who describes the buildings as ‘ruined’, the vineyards as ‘exhausted’ and the slave who has made the wine for several years as ‘very ignorant’. While Colijn is described as a ‘simple burgher’, the flamboyant Cloete is described as ‘lordly’ and an ‘African Jupiter’ by the French ornithologist Francois le Vaillant in 1780.

Klopstock

1795

Constantia immortalised in poetry

German poet Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock pens an ode entitled Der Kapwein und der Johannisberger (The Cape Wine and the Johannisberger), beseeching ‘old father Johann’ (the world-famous Riesling of Schloss Johannisberg) not to be angry with him, as a German, for unpatriotically preferring to drink the ‘daughter Konstanzia’ with her bridal blush and scent of rose oil.

Next generation of Coljyns and Cloetes

1798

The next generation of Colijns and Cloetes

After the death of his wife in 1794, Hendrik Cloete leaves Groot Constantia in the hands of his son, Hendrik Junior. At Klein/Hoop op Constantia, Lambertus Johannes Colyn is now in charge – and it is thanks to him that we have a record of how sweet Constantia was made. In his journal, he describes everything from soil preparation (‘one basket of manure is used for four vines’) through pest control (‘placing rolled-up vine leaves in the vines to catch weevils’) to fining (‘each cask with a basin of sheep- or goat’s blood’).

Jane Austen

1811

Jane Austen writes Sense and Sensibility

In Jane Austen’s first published novel, Sense and Sensibility, Mrs Jennings recommends a little Constantia ‘for its healing powers on a disappointed heart’ as well as for colicky gout.

The Emperors Wine

1815 - 1821

The Emperor's Wine

Napoleon Bonaparte, while in exile on the island of St Helena, enjoys up to a bottle of ‘vin de Constance’ daily. He even reportedly requests a glass on his deathbed, refusing all other food and drink offered to him.

The creation of Klein Constantia

1824

The creation of Klein Constantia

When Hendrik Cloete Jnr dies in 1817, Groot Constantia has 84,000 vines planted. The estate is divided between two sons, Jacob Pieter and Johan Gerhard. The latter settles on the upper portion of the estate, to be known as Klein (Little) Constantia, where 33,000 vines are planted. He converts existing circa-1793 buildings into a cellar and a Cape Dutch homestead with a thatched roof, yellowwood ceilings and elegant sash windows.

Constance in FR literature

1853

‘Constance’ in French literature

Alexandre Dumas publishes Le Comtesse de Charny, his sweeping epic about the French Revolution. In Chapter II, the future Louis XVIII receives news that the Marquis de Favras has been executed for treason. ‘At dessert, let us drink to his health in a glass of Constance,’ suggests His Royal Highness. In 1857, Charles Baudelaire publishes Les Fleurs du Mal, a volume of poems devoted to themes of decadence and eroticism. Sed non satiate concerns itself with lust so insatiable that the ‘elixir’ of the lover’s lips is desired even more than Constantia or opium.

Vine disease arrives in SA

1853

Vine disease arrives in South Africa

Oidium tuckeri (powdery mildew) is detected in the Western Cape for the first time, and is first recorded in Constantia on 28 December 1958.

Charles Dickens

1870

Support from Charles Dickens

In his unfinished novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Charles Dickens writes of ‘the support embodied in a glass of Constantia and a home-made biscuit’. The biscuits are ‘slender ladies’ fingers, to be dipped into sweet wine’ while the Constantia is stored in ‘a compact leaden-vault […] whence issued whispers of Seville Orange, Lemon, Almond and Caraway-seed’.

Constantia winemaking ceases

1872

Constantia winemaking ceases

Long before the arrival of phylloxera in Constantia on 26 November 1898, the golden age of Constantia has come to an end. Both the Colijns and Cloetes have been declared insolvent, in 1857 and 1872 respectively, followed by Dirk Gysbert Cloete of Klein Constantia in 1873. Reasons for their demise include labour shortages following the abolition of slavery in 1834; the arrival of powdery mildew in 1858; and Britain’s termination of preferential import duties on Cape wines in 1860, followed by Britain and France agreeing to a 10-year free trade agreement in 1861. The market’s taste in wine has also shifted from sweet to dry, with AV Kirwan writing in 1864 that ‘the Constantia wine of the Cape, though much liked by Frenchmen of seventy and upwards, and Frenchwomen above forty, never can be generally a favourite with Englishmen’.

Dormancy

1880 - 1980

Dormancy

For more than a century, legendary sweet Constantia wine survives only in poetry and prose – and in the illustrious cellars of Europe’s great wine collectors.

Clara Hussey Gatsby Era

1912

Klein Constantia enters a ‘Great Gatsby’ era

Klein Constantia is purchased by American heiress, Clara Hussey, and her husband, Braam Lochner de Villiers, a Paarl milliner. The manor house is restored and upgraded, and hosts some of the most extravagant parties in Cape Town history. Russian caviar and other exotic delicacies are served to guests dressed in the latest fashions as orchestras play and peacocks stroll the lawns.

De Villeirs nephew inherit estate

1955

De Villiers’ nephew inherits the estate

Clara Hussey dies childless, 25 years after Braam, and the estate is left to their nephew, Jan de Villiers. Despite having been sent to the University of California at Berkley to study viticulture, he has no interest in farming. He leases and later sells Klein Constantia to Ian Austin, breaking an entail in Braam’s will which had stipulated that the property should never leave the family.

Austins good intentions

1972

Austin’s good intentions thwarted

Austin plants wine grapes but all the planting material is virus-infected, making it virtually impossible to ripen grapes in relatively cool Constantia. He soon gives up, applying for permission from the Divisional Council of the Cape to sell off land for cluster housing projects.

Jooste

1980

Jooste era begins

Duggie Jooste buys Klein Constantia from Ian Austin and decides to revive the farm to its former winemaking glory with the help of Professor Chris Orffer of Stellenbosch University. Winemaker Ross Gower and architect Gawie Fagan begin work on the new cellar, which is finished just in time for the 1986 harvest, winning a merit award from the SA Institute of Architects, who describe it as ‘a sensitive adornment to an important historical estate’.

First vintages of KC released

1986

First modern Klein Constantia vintage is released

Klein Constantia releases its first new vintages for commercial sale in over a century. The wines immediately set a new benchmark, the Sauvignon Blanc judged Champion Sauvignon Blanc and Champion White Wine at the 1986 Stellenbosch Young Wine Show and at the SA Championship Wine Show a few weeks later. In 1988 the Cabernet Sauvignon is named best wine on show at the National Wine Show, a feat repeated the following year by the Cab-Merlot blend – successes attributed by the Joostes to having virtually the only leafroll-free red vineyards in the country.

Fisrt Vintage of VDC 1986

1990

First Vin de Constance is released

For four years, the Klein Constantia team has nurtured a secret: two barrels of natural sweet Muscat de Frontignan maturing in their cellar. Following what they believe to be the old ‘recipe’, they have attempted to recreate the original mythical Constantia sweet wine so beloved in the 18th and 19th centuries. They name it ‘Vin de Constance’ and its historic significance and exceptional quality are immediately appreciated by connoisseurs.

Lowell Jooste

1993

Duggie Jooste honoured, son Lowell takes the reins

Duggie Jooste is awarded the Cape Times Centenary Medal for his outstanding contribution to the preservation of the Cape’s historical and architectural heritage through the restoration of Klein Constantia estate. Meanwhile, his son, Lowell, has taken over the management of the estate, successfully steering Klein Constantia through two decades of awards, accolades and milestones.

Among the best in the world

1997

Among the best in the world

Vin de Constance is one of only three wines from the southern hemisphere included among the 44 ‘greatest wines in the world’ in David Cobbold’s The Great Wines and Vintages: Les Plus Grands Vins du Monde. In 2000 Klein Constantia is named one of the nine ‘most mythical vineyards in the world’ by the Institut International des Paysages et Architectures Viticoles (International Institute of Viticultural Landscapes and Architecture), alongside the likes of Yquem and La Romanée-Conti.

Sustainable changes

2003

Sustainable changes

Ross Gower resigns as winemaker to be replaced by Adam Mason, who sees no reason to tamper with an icon: ‘Vin de Constance is about a sense of place. It’s the vineyards that make the wine.’ However, he does introduce the practice of harvesting the vineyard in several passes, at different stages of ripeness and raisining, to result in a more optimal and consistent blend. He also introduces a more sustainable approach to winegrowing, incorporating organic practices where appropriate. In 2011, Klein Constantia is recognised as a WWF Conservation Champion thanks to its efforts in boosting biodiversity, managing soil erosion, protecting against fire, harnessing solar energy, reducing herbicide usage and embracing an intergrated pest management programme.

New Owners

2011

Klein Constantia finds new owners

Believing that Klein Constantia will benefit from foreign investment with a long-term view, Lowell Jooste agrees to sell the estate to Czech-American investor and philanthropist Zdenek Bakala and UK-based businessman Charles Harman, who appoint Hans Astrom as managing director (later becoming executive vice-chairman). The following year, Klein Constantia merges with Anwilka Vineyards in Stellenbosch. This is Jooste’s joint venture with Bordeaux luminaries Bruno Prats and Hubert de Boüard, who thereby become shareholders in Klein Constantia. ‘We are privileged to be custodians of one of the most historic properties in the Cape, and regard the preservation of this heritage as a serious responsibility,’ they say.

New Heights and winegrowing team

2012

New heights and a new winegrowing team

Robert Parker taster Neal Martin names the Vin de Constance 2007 as his Sweet Wine of the Year, scoring it 97 points – at that stage the highest rating ever awarded to a South African wine. Matthew Day is appointed as winemaker, having been Adam Mason’s assistant winemaker since 2008. Voted by UK magazine Drinks Business as one of its Top 30 winemakers under 40 to watch in 2014, he is named Tim Atkin’s Young Winemaker of the Year for 2016. Craig Harris joins the team as viticulturist in 2013, having previously worked at Bouchard Finlayson in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley and Paul Cluver Wines in Elgin.

A Wine fit for royalty 2

2015

A wine once again fit for royalty

The Queen of England, Elizabeth II, hosts the Chinese president Xi Jinping and his wife at a state banquet at Buckingham Palace. Other guests include British Prime Minister David Cameron as well as Prince William and his wife, Kate, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. Dessert is accompanied by Vin de Constance 2008. One month later, Vin de Constance 2009 makes history by securing a Top 10 position on prestigious US magazine Wine Spectator’s Top 100 list for 2015 – the first South African wine to do so.

142 years of bottled poetry

2017

142 years of bottled poetry

Members of the specialist wine trade and media are invited to the old cellar at Klein Constantia to taste history – literally – in the form of two pint bottles of 1875 Constantia Wine. Among six bottles bought on auction in London in the late 1960s by Dr Nils Sternby, the wine had rested for almost half a century in his temperature-controlled cellar in Malmo, Sweden. It is still in perfect condition, with one taster describing it as ‘142 years of bottled poetry’.

Best Sweet Wine in the world again

2018

Best sweet wine in the world - again and again and again

Vin de Constance 2014 is awarded one of only 50 prestigious Best in Show trophies at the Decanter World Wine Awards 2018. It is in fact the second year in a row that Klein Constantia takes top honours, with the Vin de Constance 2013 having won the trophy in 2017. Tim Atkin then releases his South Africa Report for 2018, awarding the Vin de Constance 2015 98 points and naming it overall Sweet Wine of the year – a feat replicated by the Vin de Constance 2016 the following year, and by the Vin de Constance 2017 in the South Africa Report for 2020.

Klein Constantia appoints Bordeaux negociants

2019

Klein Constantia appoints Bordeaux négociants

Vin de Constance becomes the first South African wine to join the Bordeaux négociant market, with distribution by three of the most prestigious houses: CVBG (Compagnie des Vins de Bordeaux et de la Gironde), DUCLOT Export and Maison JOANNE. ‘It’s an opportunity to strengthen the international visibility of the wine and further elevate its nobility,’ says Hans Astrom.

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